Sunday, January 31, 2010

Max Ophuels

I have heard about Max Ophuels (there should be an umlaut back there, but that isn't possible with this software) for decades, but I had never seen any of his work until a few weeks ago I saw both "Letter from an Unknown Woman" (1948) and "The Earrings of Madame de..." (1951). I am quite fond of Stefan Zweig's short story, "Letter from an Unknown Woman," so I was somewhat surprised by the adaptation (though I realize it was a Hollywood version, conceived as a vehicle for Joan Fontaine). Louis Jourdan plays the blackguard boyfriend (oddly dressed in almost contemporary clothes while everyone else is in period costumes), and the sets really do evoke fin-de-siecle Vienna. Their romantic evening in the Prater was as I'd often imagined the Prater to have been in those days, not the derelict Prater of "The Third Man." The best actor in the movie is Mady Christian (who I'd never seen before) as the mother. She is entirely believable- her accent, her gestures, her facial expressions, everything. The padding out of the story is pretty ho-hum, but the essence of Zweig's characters is still there.
"The Earrings of Madame de..." is a Pathe production, with Daniele Darrieux as Countess Louise, Charles Boyer as the Count (her husband) and Vittorio de Sica as Baron Fabrizzio Donati, the love interest. Boyer and Ophuels argued about the interpretation of the Count's character, and I believe that Boyer was right- the one-note interpretation makes the Count a monster, and ultimately not that interesting. Countess Louise faints constantly. De Sica is just a joy here- I had no idea he was such an interesting actor. I also watched an interview with the writer who wrote the 1951 novel the film is based on, Louise de Vilmorin (who's quite a trip to watch; she keeps swinging this twig around like it's some kind of riding crop). The novel is set in Vienna in the 1930s, not fin-de-siecle Paris, and the Baron's "friendly jeweler" is Cartier. De Vilmorin swears the movie has nothing whatsover to do with her story, and I believe her.

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